Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My First Time

January 26th 2010

The air is thick with anticipation. Words cannot begin to describe my uncertainty of self and my once comfortable surroundings seem to become a mental cage.  It’s like i had so much to say and now it’s all gone.  Escaping out of my mind as if through a crack in my brain.  I know my aims and my goals and i really want to be in this place with you but i don’t know how. If you asked me to write a poem about it next week i probably could, turning each stomach turn into a metaphor and each step towards my goal of unlimited expression into a cascading simile of words to wash over you.  But i can’t seem to do that right now.  Instead i will try by starting with a taste of me. 

My name is Roshan Amirily Karmali.  I am a 23 years old, photographer, poet and an advocate for the liberation of the female mind.  I was born in Uganda, East Africa, and the majority of my family were all born and raised here.  We moved to London when i was 5years old, and i stayed there till i got my BA (Hons) degree in Photography and Media Arts at UCCA. 

My whole life has been spent in a foreign country longing to come home and understand my culture and heritage.  That’s not to say we didn’t come home to visit. My mother loves her home soil  and has instilled the best African values she knew how to impose in a European country.  After i got my degree i found myself in the gifted position of pregnancy.  It was this that pushed me really come home permanently and be with my family who had moved home over the course of my 3 years in university.  I come from a family of 5. There are four boys and me, the only girl, and we were raised by a single mother.  Each of us, except the youngest, flew the nest and moved forward through life until my mother had no one to ‘take care of’ except for my youngest brother Alim (a now prolific musician and craftsman doing his degree in Product Design in Manchester).  With that in mind my mother, the elegant and beautiful spirit Miss Elsie Dreada Cooper, along with Alim, decided to move back to the Mother Land and the only place that really captures her spirit, Uganda. It was at this point that the rest of us started to stir and start to combat our battles alone, feeling unsettled in our environments and no longer secure that we had our ‘Glue’ in place.  First my brother Mohez who was at the time living in Canada decided to take the first leap, and move home.  Here he found a sense of liberation, a power to be his own boss, which stirred Iqbal to pack up his faith (he is a devote Muslim, a gentle and intelligent being who finds pleasure in a simple but goal orientated life), and his new wife and bring them Home.  Then there was me, newly pregnant and unsure of the outcomes life would bring i found peace and a sense of future coming home.  I was going to give birth, nurse the next visionary and blow up the Kampala Photography scene like never before! Last came the brother before me (Mohez and Iqbal are both older than me too), Salim.  He came in 2009, and really hoped to start a new life away from the hum drum of British living where having a job just to survive didn’t seem like the most attractive option any more.

So that is a bit of my background. And now to how i came to be sitting here, in this seat, deciding to try and strip myself bare and share the goings on of my life as a working photographer in Kampala, Uganda, East Africa.  
Moving back to Uganda, as much as it has been a blessing it has also been the biggest struggle of my life, and continues to be on a day to day basis of getting work and getting ‘out there.’ When i came back home i was sure that people would look at the innovation and creativity of my work and be jumping at the opportunity to hire me to take their photographs...This wasn’t the case.  I began my journey as what seems to be, the ONLY female photographer in Kampala. Amidst a mass of what seemed (and still does) to be a sea of photographers who have the ability to set their cameras on AUTO and move around the city, or in tiny studios taking ‘Professional’ and cheap shots.  People want to be airbrushed to the point of looking like they’re about to slide off the page and NO ONE seems to be interested in social photography unless kids are starving with no sense of hope or salvation.  It is too easy out here for people to just use the blur tool, or heighten the contrast and for this to be considered an acceptable finished piece of work.
Where was ‘The Art of Concept Photography’ here?  The joy in feeling a lens in your hand and the click of a button running shivers down your spine because you know you just captured something inspirational, progressive, and exciting.  I have the firm belief that even if you are getting paid to shoot an advert or someone’s personal photographs the feeling stays the same when the quality and technique in your art form stays one of the elements that fulfils your state of being. After all why else is it that we take the path of becoming artists if we don’t want to be fulfilled, otherwise we would all stick to those boring jobs which pay the rent and allow us to muddle through life at a completely balanced rate. But isn’t that boring job only worth it when you know it is simply the means to fuel your passion?

Ok so i get frustrated and decide to start getting myself ‘out there’.  I start by opening my gallery the Kampala Visual Art Studio AKA. KAMVAS (i hope you all see the word play here). And then i decide to start pressuring people to hire me, or at least see my portfolio, my logic being that when they see that they can get higher quality work for the same price they are currently paying they might decide to take a risk and hire me.  This doesn’t go so well.  It’s a man’s world and people are getting jobs over me because I’m young, and a woman.  But it’s ok Strategy Two, My friends.  That’s where i get my first paying gig.  My now Best Friend Gloria Wavamuno.  She is an amazing designer who really captures the Essence of being a woman.  She believes in the power of Women and is totally on the same page as me. And we go on to work together on a permanent basis.  I am her official photographer and future business partner.  It feels good to progress with someone, take each other to new places and find someone in the same struggle as myself in a different field, so there is no sense of competition and we can both play a hand in the progression of each other’s careers.  This was the stepping stone of things to come.  Small gigs here and there until people started calling me to be their photographer.  
A moment of complete triumph!  I felt like the all the hustling and hard work was amounting to something, even  if they didn’t pick me to take their photographs at least i got the call, at least i was in their pile and fate had placed me there to tell me ‘maybe next time’ but i didn’t need a next time because it was this time.  I took on the project for a new Telecommunications company ‘Smile,’ and even though i can’t post their images up yet when i do it will be another milestone for me.
Except for this commercial work i have really found a sense of Home in a group of people called The Bavubuka All Starz.  This group of prolific young Mc’s and Artist’s who are pioneering for the Youth of Uganda.  The organization, founded and run by Hip Hop artist/youth activist/good friend Stansilas Sajjabi AKA Babaluku, aims at changing the lives of Uganda’s Youth (Bavubuka) through Art.  They provide programs such as MC class, Art class, Business class, Photography class (run by me), Dance class to name a few, and generally provide a safe haven for youths who don’t want to be out robbing people, but want to instead be doing something progressive with their time. 

How does this relate to photography? Well i have the pleasure of photographing events and the general progression of their lives.  They run a poetry night in Kampala at Club Rouge called Spoken Truth, which is the equivalent of an Open Mic night and hopefully will be Uganda’s response to Def Jam Poetry.  These images bring forward a sense of hope away from the stereotypical starving child and are an example of what art can do to transform lives.

This leads me on to my first social project in Kampala.  A series of photographs commissioned my be Norwegian Embassy aimed at artistically representing and challenging the roles of Women in Ugandan society with their base literature being the play ‘A Doll’s House’.  It was the first project i have ever done where i had to not only balance the role of the client with my own artistic views and radical outlooks. The project turned out well and my exhibit went well and was placed around the Embassy’s event which aimed at discussing women’s roles etc.

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